Weekly Column – Fan Recap: Star Wars Celebration V

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A banner for Celebration V.Star Wars Celebration V (CV), held in Orlando, FL, was a huge convention to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. But while the focus was on Empire, the convention covered all aspects of Star Wars: the movies, books, games, comics, collectors, fans, and just about anything else you can think of. Words can’t describe the enormity of the event. Over 30,000 fans braved Florida’s heat and humidity to attend the four-day event, which began on August 12, 2010. This is one fan’s account of what happened.

Day 0: Wednesday

I arrived in Orlando (nicknamed “O’Lando” by some fans) in the evening at met up with fellow EUCantina/Solo Sound staff member Stephen, whose flight landed around the same time as mine. Together, we took a shuttle to the hotel that half of the staff was staying at. There, we had a surprise run-in with Riley, whom we had never seen photos of before.  He instantly recognized us from our photos, but it took us a moment to notice his familiar voice. Sorry Riley! Other than this, the Day 0 was mostly uneventful.

Day 1: Thursday

Let the Wookiee win.Celebration V begins!  Stephen, Riley, and myself met Austin in the hotel lobby at 8:00 AM and together we walked over to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), where CV was being held. There, we met up with Andrew and Pawel. It was great to be able to see our online friends from EUCantina in person for the first time.

Pawel and I headed straight for the Media Room to pick up our Media Badges, while the rest of the staff waited in the OCCC lobby. By the time we returned a few minutes later, the rest of the staff had been forced to enter the Queuing Hall. Unable to cut in line and join them, we decided to take advantage of my Hyperspace membership and use the Hyperspace Member Queue. Luckily, Hyperspace members were allowed to share their special privileges with one guest. The line in the Queuing Hall was very long, so we were surprised to discover just how short the Hyperspace line was. Rather than thousands of people, our line had only a few hundred.  Win!

A friendly Wampa.Pawel and I entered the Celebration Experience Hall (which contained the exhibitors, artists, actors, Celebration Store, and much more) just a few minutes after the convention doors opened. We walked around for about 20-30 minutes until the rest of the EUC staff was able to join us. From there, we decided to check out a few exhibitors and then go immediately to the Celebration Store before the lines became too long.  After picking up our Celebration V exclusive merchandise (a water bottle, poster, and commemorative guide), we joined Austin and Andrew at the Celebration Art Show, where official Star Wars artists sell their exclusive CV prints. At this point, they’d already been in line for an hour and yet they were still at the back of the line.  For whatever reason, the organizer of the Celebration Art Show had only set up one register. Brilliant… Since I was going to pick up one of the prints for my brother, I asked Andrew and Austin if they could pick it up for me, saving me time in line. Instead, I ended up taking their place in line so they could attend the Dark Horse panel. I didn’t mind, since I didn’t have anything I wanted to attend until 3:30 PM. But an hour and forty-five minutes later, I was still in line with an estimated hour or so to go.

Since we’d already reserved our copy of the artwork, I decided enough was enough. I left the line and rejoined the rest of the group. On my way to The Clone Wars VFX panel, I realized that something had gone wrong: apparently, my phone’s calendar is based on the time zone, not the internal clock. That means that everything I added to the calendar before I left was three hours later that it should be. Having missed the panel due to the scheduling issues, we explored some more until it was time to get in line for Celebrating Celebration with Steve Sansweet. Steve Sansweet gave fans a taste of what was available at the convention in what was basically opening ceremonies.

The Digital Stage.  This photo was taken during the panel "The Clone Wars: Evolution."  Note: this photo was taken before the Republic Commandos were unveiled.

The last panel of the day was The Clone Wars: Evolutions. Hosted by David Collins on the Digital Stage, Dave Filoni and Joel Aaron discussed how the show has improved over the years, specifically since Season 2. Apparently, it’s a lot. According to Dave Filoni, what we have now and what they’re currently working on is analogous to the Atari 2600 and Xbox 360. In other words, there’s a huge difference. In keeping with this theme, Filoni and Aaron showed off the new water effects in Season 3. Water was next to impossible in past seasons, but the team has finally figured out a way to do it cheap enough. And it looks great! In fact, the water droplets are the same exact assets as those used in Attack of the Clones. Dave Filoni called this “authentic Star Wars rain.” The panelists showed off a few clips of the new rain and water effects on Kamino, including one where a shuttle lands… and Republic Commandos walk down the ramp! Not just any RC’s, but Delta Squad! As soon as the ramp lowered, there was a few seconds of stunned silence as the audience noticed Boss, Sev, Scorch, and Fixer. Suddenly, everyone broke into thunderous applause. From that moment on, every clip of Delta Squad shown at the convention was met with the same ecstatic excitement and applause. Filoni also announced that, with Season 3, there would be a bigger focus on overarching plot threads and more delving into the Expanded Universe. For people who thought these areas were lacking in Seasons 1 and 2, this was a big relief.

Stephen and I ended the day by attending the 2011 Fan Movie Awards, an award show for the best Star Wars fan films. With Day 1 officially over, we headed back to our hotel and got more sleep then we would for the rest of the convention.

Day 2: Friday

After standing in line wearing our official EUC shirts, the EUCantina staff entered the Celebration Experience Hall. We had an hour or two of exploration (and there is a lot to see) before the panel for The Force Unleashed II started.  There wasn’t a lot of new information, mostly because the video of Yoda in TFU2 had leaked the night before, but it was still an enjoyable panel. Attendees were shown clips of Starkiller and Yoda on Dagobah (including the cave!) and Boba Fett talking with Darth Vader, as well as concept art and game play. Visually, the game is stunning. The first Force Unleashed looked great, but this one is off the charts. The new game play features look very cool, and the level design is interesting. Fans of the first game will probably love the sequel. But, while many of the fans’ complaints have been addressed, it might not be enough to win over the game’s harshest critics.

Image courtesy of BioWare.

Upon exiting the TFU2 panel, we immediately re-entered the line for the Digital Stage. The Art and Writing of Star Wars: The Old Republic panel was one of the highlights of the day. While the writers (including Drew Karpyshyn) and the artists talked about the upcoming MMO, one of the artists drew concept art for the game live on stage. As with the TFU2 panel, there weren’t many surprises since the game is so far out. But seeing artwork created live on the screen was very cool. In less than 50 minutes, the artist was able to create an amazing illustration. The speed at which he worked was surprising. Many people in the audience found it hard to concentrate on what was being said with such a fascinating thing happening on screen.

During The Clone Wars: The Dark Side Clouds Everything panel, Dave Filoni talked with stage host Pablo Hidalgo about various aspects of The Clone Wars, with a focus on the politics of the galaxy. This panel, like all of those featuring Filoni, was very entertaining. During the audience Q&A session, a little girl asked Filoni a surprisingly hard question: “What’s going to happen to Ahsoka?” Sadly, there was no way he could give her an answer without spoiling the entire series and getting in trouble with Lucasfilm’s PR department. This spawned a running joke throughout the rest of the convention: “you must be this high to ask Dave a question.”

EUCantina's The Essential Atlas panel.Immediately following this was EUCantina’s very own panel – Discover the Atlas: Star Wars: The Essential Atlas. Created and organized by EUCantina and moderated by Pablo Hidalgo – a writer for StarWars.com with a wealth of EU knowledge – the panel contained questions written by the EUCantina staff with input from forum members. On hand to discuss The Essential Atlas were writers Daniel Wallace and Jason Fry, artists Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff, and editor Erich Schoeneweiss. During the panel, signed copies of the book were given away to the first five fans to ask questions during the Q&A. Closing out the hour was a surprise announcement by the panelists: a huge map of the Star Wars galaxy will be coming to StarWars.com sometime in the future! This map will allow users to zoom in and see the enormous amount of detail that was put into the maps.

Following this, most of the EUCantina staff returned to their hotels to prepare for getting up early the next morning. A few, however – Stephen, Riley, Bethany, and myself – decided to check out the Star Wars Laser Tag area. Since most of the convention had closed down for the night, the place was pretty much empty. After a 20-30 minute 5v5 session of laser tag (complete with an enemy Scout Trooper!) we grabbed dinner and returned to our hotel rooms to get three and a half hours of sleep.

Day 3: Saturday

The big day had finally arrived! After getting up at 3:30 AM, Stephen, Riley, Bethany, and I joined Pawel (who had arrived at 10:00 PM the night before) in line for The Main Event. Though it was early in the morning, the heat and humidity were still terrible. At 6:00 AM, security finally let the line into the OCCC. Wrist bands were distributed upon entering the building, and the first 2,600 people were able to secure seats in the Celebration Stage, which was nicknamed the “live stage.” Everyone else was forced to watch the event streamed live on the screens in the other stages. Out of everyone on the EUCantina staff, only Andrew and Austin were unable to sit in the Celebration Stage.  Of course, they had expected this when they decided to get a little more sleep and arrive around 8:00 AM.

A dark (but less blurry) photo of Mark Hamill on stage.At 10:00 AM, the line was finally let into the Celebration Stage. Immediately, you could tell this was the main event. Pre-show entertainment kept people from getting bored during the final stretch. Finally, at 11:00 AM, the time had come. Stage host Jay Laga’aia walked on stage in Stormtrooper armor to introduce Jon Stewart, the man who would be interviewing the creator of Star Wars himself, George Lucas. Lucas appeared on stage to a standing ovation, and proceeded to have a hilarious discussion about various aspects of Star Wars. During the event, George Lucas showed two new clips from the upcoming Season 3 of The Clone Wars. The first showed Baron Papanoida, the character Lucas played in Revenge of the Sith, battling in the Mos Eisley Cantina alongside his two daughters. The second clip introduced Savage Oppress, the brother of fan-favorite character Darth Maul. Lucas also announced that his daughter had written the Asajj Ventress story arc, and that she had done heavy research on the Expanded Universe to make everything line up as much as possible. The clips alone were great, but Lucas didn’t stop there. He announced the release of Star Wars on Blu-ray in Fall 2011 and brought out none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. Together, they showed off a never-before-seen deleted scene from the beginning of Return of the Jedi where Luke builds his lightsaber. Not content to end there, Lucas brought out another famous Star Wars star: Carrie Fisher. After walking on stage, she lay down on the couch just like when Luke meets Princess Leia on the Death Star in A New Hope. George Lucas, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher ended The Main Event by thanking fans for the love and support over the last thirty-three years and walked off stage to thunderous applause.

While The Main Event was definitely the highlight of the convention, the fun didn’t stop there. Fate of the Jedi Authors & Series was the next panel the EUCantina staff attended. There, we learned the title of the ninth and final book in the series, Apocalypse, and heard the authors talk about the decisions they’ve made so far.

Dave Filoni discusses Season 3 of The Clone Wars.This was followed by the highly anticipated panel Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Three Revealed. Chock-full of information, Dave Filoni and Joel Aaron showed off a new series of droids and debuted a TCW “mega-trailer,” which can be seen on StarWars.com. They also showed multiple clips from the series – a second viewing of the introduction of Darth Maul’s brother, a clip of a PJ-clad Count Dooku fighting off invisible Jedi while under the effects of a poisonous dart, and one of Asajj Ventress landing on Dathomir and talking to the Nightsisters – and talked about the upcoming season. This panel was awesome and made everyone in the room even more excited for Season 3, which begins one month from tomorrow on September 17th.

Taking a break from the panels, Stephen and I headed over to the Becker & Mayer Books booth in the Celebration Experience Hall to meet up with Daniel Wallace, while the rest of the staff attended the panel for Dark Horse and Del Rey: Knight Errant. Daniel Wallace showed off his latest book, The Jedi Path, a comprehensive book about the Jedi Order for fans young and old. The book, which comes in an electronic vault, is so cool it even received its own trailer.  Head on over to EUCantina to watch our video interview with Daniel Wallace.

The cast of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Following this was Star Wars: The Clone Wars Behind the Microphone. While no news came out of this panel, it was still very entertaining. The entire cast of the show was on hand to discuss their jobs and show off their amazing talent. The panelists included Matthew Wood (General Grievous / Battle Droids), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi / Plo Koon), Catherine Taber (Padme Amidala), Jamie King (Aurra Sing), Tom Kane (Yoda / Admiral Yularen / Series Announcer), Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker), Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Troopers), and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano). The highlight of the panel was seeing James Arnold Taylor, an amazing voice actor, go though a list of 30-50 well-known voices in just a few minutes. Watching him switch voices every few words in time with a slideshow (which displayed an image of the famous person or character he was imitating) was seriously impressive and earned him a standing ovation.

Next up was Inside Star Wars Insider with the Editors and Writers. Unlike the other panels, this one was more focused on fan feedback then how the magazine is made. They did a great job of listening to feedback and attempting to incorporate it into the official Star Wars magazine. Surprisingly, a few announcements came out of the panel. The first was that, according to what the editors and writers have heard, a full soundtrack for the Star Wars saga is in the works and planned for release alongside the Blu-ray set next year. Also, coming later this year is a book containing the best articles from Star Wars Insider over the years.

The final ride.Exhausted from the long day, most of the EUCantina staff returned to their hotel rooms. But for Stephen and myself, the day was far from over. We hopped on a shuttle and headed to Walt Disney World for the Last Tour to Endor. Upon arriving, we immediately headed for Star Tours – the reason for the event. After four flights, we tried to catch the second showing of Indiana Jones and the Lost Jedi Temple of Doom. From what people had told us, it was a not-to-be-missed performance. Apparently, Dave Filoni thought so too; he was standing at the entrance to the theater as we walked up. However, we were surprised to discover that it was already full.  eats were very limited and we were told that we should arrive at least 60 minutes early if we wanted to catch the third and final showing. This presented a conundrum: do we fly on Star Tours a few more times, watch the Hyperspace Hoopla, and then check out the Symphony of the Stars fireworks spectacular at midnight? Or do we get in line for the 12:15 AM showing of Indiana Jones and the Lost Jedi Temple of Doom? After much deliberation, we decided to go with the latter based on feedback from fellow attendees.

Darth Vader vs. Indiana Jones.

Although it was 11:00 at night, the heat and humidity were still unbearable. We hoped the show was worth the “cost” of admission. Luckily, it was.  We were seated in the first row behind the VIP seating area. While waiting for the show to begin, we learned that George Lucas, Dave Filoni, Anthony Daniels, and many other famous Star Wars people had attended the previous showing. We were curious as to who would be at ours. For the most part, it was nobody of their magnitude. But we did spot two awesome guys: James Arnold Taylor and Tom Kane. They, along with “randomly selected” people (who we suspect were plants) were pulled from the crowd to assist with the show. The performance, which was basically a collection of famous scenes from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, mixed characters together for no particular reason other than that it was funny or cool. Fans laughed when they saw Jar Jar’s head on a spike in the Temple of Doom and cheered when Darth Vader and Indiana Jones had a lightsaber fight.  The performance was well done and enjoyable. Our only regret was that it ran past 12:50 AM – the time when Star Tours was to be shut down.

The Last Tour to Endor has officially closed.Not wanting to leave without one final trip to Endor, Stephen and I made our way through the crowd to Star Tours. Luckily, the staff had been kind enough to keep it open for the people at the performance! As we entered the Star Tours queue for the final time, we thought back to all the times we’d rode it in the past. As we neared the bay for the Star Speeder 3000s, we noticed that something was up. The queue line in Star Tours is split into two halves, but only the right side was moving. Finally, we were directed toward Bay 5, where we stood in the first and second positions of Row 3.  As we waited for the clock to finish counting down so we could board the ship for the last time, we realized that the rest of the bays were now empty. Glancing towards the entrance, we saw that almost everyone on the Star Tours staff was standing in a group. It was then that we realized that we were on The Last Ride to Endor! The staff confirmed our theory and congratulated us on being the last group to ride on Star Tours. Suddenly, the entire group was ecstatic. We boarded the Star Speeder 3000 and were joined by some of the staff. Everyone was cheering in anticipation of the final flight. People started pulling out cameras, but instead of asking them to stop, the staff told us we could do whatever we wanted. After all, we were on the last flight! Finally, the ride began. It was almost impossible to hear it over everyone’s cheering and clapping. Every part of the ride became a big deal: “This is the last time we’ll ever attack the Death Star,” someone yelled, prompting a new round of cheers and clapping. Eventually, the ride ended and Star Tours powered down for the last time.* It was the perfect way to end an awesome day.

Day 4: Sunday

"Go that way.  You'll be malfunctioning within a day you nearsighted scrap pile!"Because the Last Tour to Endor ran so late, we only slept for another four hours or so. We met up with what remained of the EUCantina staff (sadly, Austin couldn’t attend the convention on Sunday and Pawel had to leave halfway though the day) and got in line for the One Man Star Wars Trilogy. The show was awesome, as usual. Charlie Ross does an amazing job of performing the Original Trilogy by himself in 60 minutes. And he’s not only talented; he’s funny. No matter how many times I see him perform this act, it never gets old.  “It’s [not] a trap!”

We had some free time, so we decided to take a more in-depth look at the exhibitors in the Celebration Experience Hall. After standing in line to play the awesome demo for The Force Unleashed II, we stopped by the Del Rey / Random House booth to say hello to Erich Schoeneweiss and Drew Karpyshyn. A look at Hasbro and LEGO finished off our list of booths to check out.

With that done, we headed over to the second-to-last panel of the convention: Star Wars Sound Masters Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood. Sonic genius Ben Burtt and the equally brilliant Matthew Wood discussed how they got into sound design, what it’s like to create the iconic sounds of Star Wars, and more. Burtt even surprised fans by showing a clip of him sneaking onto the set of the Millennium Falcon cockpit (from Return of the Jedi) so he could pretend to jump to hyperspace. After the panel, we said goodbye to Andrew, who had to head home, and got back in line for the final panel.

As big fans of TCW, we decided to wrap up Celebration V with a repeat viewing of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 3 Revealed. Dave Filoni was entertaining as usual, and was very generous; running 30 minutes over the time limit so he could keep answering fan questions. Our last stop before leaving the OCC was a final trip to the Celebration Store so Stephen could pick up the exclusive merchandise he wanted. With that complete, we left the convention center and headed back to our hotel.

He may look serious in this picture, but the entire recording session was hilarious!But while Celebration V may have been over, the work was not. Riley and Bethany joined Stephen, Tom (calling in from California via Skype) and myself for an epic two-hour episode of We Talk Clones, EUCantina and Solo Sound’s Clone Wars podcast.  Crazy from sleep deprivation, we couldn’t stop laughing at the hilarity of our make-shift podcast studio. Two laptops (each connected to two sets of headphones with cabled stretched as far as they could go) and one microphone that had to be passed around made for an interesting podcasting environment. Luckily, everything worked and we were able to record what we believe to be one of the best, most enthusiastic episodes of WTC to date. With that done, we said our goodbyes and headed home.

Summary

Star Wars Celebration V was one of the best experiences this year. The Main Event was quite a show, and being the last group to ride on Star Tours at the Last Tour to Endor was a pleasant surprise. There was so much to do at Celebration V, and we were only able to experience a fraction of it. But by far, the best part of Celebration V was being able to finally meet everyone on the EUCantina staff in person.  We had a awesome time together, and I can’t wait to see everyone at the next Celebration. See you in 2013!

* While the event was called the Last Tour to Endor, Star Tours at Disney World doesn’t actually shut down until mid-September.  However, in the minds of everyone involved – Lucasfilm, the staff, and the fans – the ride officially shut down at this event.  Disneyland’s Star Tours has already been closed.

- William

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About the Author

William Devereux (@MasterDevwi) is EUCantina's administrator, as well as the host of the We Talk Clones podcast. When he's not talking about Star Wars, he works at Microsoft as a Program Manager.